Thinking of Labor's Future: May 15, 2012

How Can Unions Become Bigger and Stronger
Without the Active Support of their Members?

“Thinking about Labor’s Future”

(The Fourth in a Series of articles)

By Harry Kelber

The AFL-CIO is governed by a group of national labor leaders, who run the 12 million-member labor federation like it was their personal corporate property.

They get their power because the AFL-CIO Constitution gives them a majority of convention votes that, in advance, guarantees their election and re-election, without any opposition from potential candidates.

At the 2009 convention, the federation’s Executive Council of some 51 members was hand-picked for a sham election, voted by delegates who did not even know the names of the candidates.

It is a fact that for more than 100 years, no officer or member of a State AFL or City Central Labor Council or local union has ever been elected to the policy-making AFL-CIO. To put it bluntly, the AFL-CIO is a “frozen” organization, with the same Old Guard of mostly middle-to-elderly white males making all of the major decisions.

AFL-CIO leaders don’t respect the rights of union members, because they feel they don’t have to. They meet behind closed doors and never reveal what takes place at their meetings, especially if there are disagreements. We are rarely consulted and our comments on policy issues are routinely ignored. When we propose suggestions or offer criticism, their only response is silence, repeated, uninterrupted silence.

AFL-CIO’s silence extends to the operation of its finances. We have no idea of how our leaders spend our dues money. There has not been a single financial report to members, despite numerous requests.

Trumka and his coterie show no evidence of wanting to rebuild the AFL-CIO. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that some 800 union members had left the labor movement in the two recession years, there was no alarm at AFL-CIO headquarters and no effort to regain those former union members.

Without Member Involvement, the AFL-CIO Has No Future

Trumka still refuses to take any major non-violent direct action that will command the attention of Congress and President Obama . That’s why the AFL-CIO has so little influence on legislation in Washington.

There is plenty of evidence of AFL-CIO’s decline. Many unions are being forced to make major concession in wages, higher healthcare costs and lower retirement income. Wages, especially for low-income workers, are stagnant or worse. Today’s minimum wages buy far less food, fuel and other necessities than ii did a decade or more ago. But AFL-CIO leaders have not launched a campaign for higher minimums

* * * * *

If the unions of tomorrow expect to succeed, they will have to make aggressive efforts to organize the millions of workers who have no protection against loss of jobs and reduced wages. They must build a trusting relationship between leaders and rank-and-filers. New ways must be found to inspire members to take part in union activities that are meaningful and rewarding.

Leadership training schools must be established in several regions across the country, staffed by organizers with rich experience in winning victories. In our society, knowledge is power.

Union elections must be honest, open to all members who meet the necessary requirements. Candidates for high office should be asked to submit their qualifications, either at a public meeting or in writing, with the option of using the Internet.

Members should be entitled to quarterly reports that deal with union policies, including information about the AFL-CIO’s finances

The new generation of unions must make a $10 hourly minimum wage one of its top priorities. They can become the champions to millions of low-wage workers, especially if they run a successful campaign.

The goal is a democratic union that ensures members their basic rights. It restores the AFL-CIO’s ownership to where it belongs — the members.

The fifth in our series on “Thinking about Labor’s Future” will be posted here on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, and on our two web sites: and on